Tuesday of last week saw the Bull & Castle's beerhall given over to the first Deveney's of Dundrum Beer Festival, a modest affair: just 240 punters and a mere three hours of drinking time. Ruth had invited in the major distributors to hawk their wares from tables around the hall, and the varied crowd was as interesting as punters at Irish beer festivals always are. It's only at events like this that you get to stand behind someone inspecting the label of an exotic IPA and remarking to his friend how amazing it was that the beer had come all the way from India. Bless.
My first port of call was the California Wine Imports stall, debuting three new American beers, albeit from New Jersey rather than the more usual left-hand coast. River Horse Belgian Freeze was proferred first, a dark red-amber winter ale. I wasn't so keen on this. At 8% ABV it tastes very hot and boozy, with a bit of an unpleasant syrupiness added on to unsubtle banana notes. Hop Hazard was next -- a sessionable 5.5% ABV pale ale, in which the hop fruitiness is slightly jarringly set against a harsh bitterness, though there's not really enough of either for my taste. River Horse were zero-for-two until Hop-a-lot-amus was poured. This is an 8.5% ABV double IPA and has that intensely resinous hop bitterness I love. Harsh? Yes, maybe a little, but it works beautifully.
Over at Premier International, Dean McGuinness was showcasing Harviestoun's Ola Dubh 12, one of the barrel-aged versions of Old Engine Oil. There's a definite hit of marker-pen phenols in this, but I don't think it interferes with the rich and smooth chocolate flavours -- I'm looking forward to spending some more considered drinking time with this, and to trying the others in the range. After my recent shockingly-sweet experience with Maisel's Weisse, I gave the Maisel's Dunkel a go late in the evening and quite liked it. There's a decent bit of caramel without it being at all sugary. And at one point Mrs Beer Nut thrust a mystery beer at me, an amber affair which tasted weirdly porridgey. It turned out to be Hambleton's gluten-free GFA. Interesting, but not something I'd choose to drink unless I had to.
Anyone who asked me for recommendations got sent to the table where Goudenband was being poured. Next to it was Liefmans Cuvée Brut kriek which I'd never tried before. For some reason I'd thought it would be a bit more mature and sour but it's actually very sugary with just an underlying current of Rodenbach sourness. I'm not sure I approve -- it made my teeth hurt.
Grand Cru were serving 3 Monts, a French blonde I'd not had the pleasure of in ages. I like the soft fluffy texture and the not-too-bitter yeasty character: a lighter and more easy-going Duvel. Wally's team were also showcasing the latest from The Porterhouse bottle-conditioned line in the form of their strong ale, Brainblásta. I really enjoy the toffee-and-apples kick off this 7%-er, and the new version is wonderfully smooth and drinkable, toning down any harshness that may be present in the cold fizzy kegged edition. I noticed at the weekend that The Porterhouse have printed up beermats to promote the new release of their Celebration imperial stout. That'll make a welcome addition to the line-up for their annual stout festival in March.
It's great to welcome another new event to the growing Irish beer calendar, and it's extra good when they happen on my doorstep. Venues are always going to be difficult, but I'd love to see this even bigger next year.